We are approaching the six-year anniversary of the economic meltdown resulting from the financial crisis.  Although many of the problems emanated from Wall Street institutions, Main Street banks also incurred losses and liquidity problems.

The entire financial sector continues to deal with the long wake of the financial crisis. New bank regulations have resulted in increased lending standards, reduced investments in exotic derivatives, and higher capital positions across the commercial banking landscape.   

Many of the agricultural banks did not participate aggressively in the high-risk housing or commercial real estate markets. The profitability of agriculture the past decade has helped mitigate the nonfarm real estate losses for banks lending to agriculture. However, the increase in regulatory compliance costs impacts the profitability of banks. Typically, as a share of total operating costs, these compliance costs are greater for smaller banks. There is continued pressure to merge institutions and gain potential cost economies and synergies.

Table 1 shows the distribution of commercial banks lending to agriculture by bank size comparison between 2007 and 2013. Banks with assets of less than $100 million exhibited the largest decrease in number of banks (2,502 to 1,685) as well as largest share decline (17% to 10%).   These changes are a combined result of mergers as well as asset growth of banks.                 

 Financial health of ag bank lending improves

Although agricultural loans at commercial banks have increased 30 percent from 2007 to 2013, overall loan balances relative to bank deposits are at the lowest level in the banking sector in 30 years. The declines are a signal of weak loan and economic growth reduced level of loans relative to deposits is also a headwind for bank profitability. in the country. Because loans are typically the highest earning asset for most banks, the

The average profitability of commercial banks lending to agriculture is shown in Figure 2.    Bank profitability has recovered from 2010 to 2013 across all size groups.  However, the smaller banks tend to trail the profitability of the larger banks.

 Financial health of ag bank lending improves

The financial health and profitability of commercial banks lending to agriculture continues to improve. There will continue to be new challenges and headwinds. New regulations will add regulatory compliance costs. Tighter profit margins for producers combined with volatile commodity prices increase the risks faced by borrowers. Moreover, interest rate risk may increase in the next 18 months. Banks will need to continue to implement prudent risk-management strategies, monitor economic conditions, and explore new opportunities to enhance competitiveness and viability. The strong financial health of the sector provides a solid base.  The commercial banking sector is in a strong position to meet the capital needs of agricultural borrowers.